Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Mexican Masala & Cultural Imperialism

"I do not want my house be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any."
-Mohandis Gandhi

I have often been told that my blog makes my readers hungry. Today shall be no different. I had an interesting cultural fusion lunch today with Dr. Kenya at the 23rd Street Cafe- the Indian, Mexican & American deli restaurant on my corner. I'm friendly with the owner Gopal, and I have been trying to convince him to do more fusion food. Today, I got him to make me tikka tacos, they were fantastic. Chicken tikka masala with onions and cilantro in a soft flour taco, slathered with mint and pomegranate sauces. YUM! I'm pitching all sorts of ideas to him, like sag paneer quesadillas and tandori burritos. My original muse for this was Kogi, the Korean Taco truck.

This fit in rather well with my Cultural Diplo class today on Cultural Imperialism. We had presentations on Disney and McDonalds in the realm of cultural imperialism. We were joined by the preview students, but I don't think they got as good of a peek as we got the previous year. After the preview kids left for a tour, we had a presentation by a dapper Prof. Cull, who was all spiffied up in a suit. He discussed the "use of political and economic power to exalt and spread the values and habits of a foreign culture" as the definition of cultural imperialism stands. Of course, the history of the colonials and the "irreversibly altered societies" was discussed. He also discussed other forms of cultural imperialism in the form of the three C's (Civilization, Commerce and Christianity). Beyond the religious agenda (Missionaries or the current spin "Faith Consultants"), trade and mission civilitrice, we heard about education (American U of Beirut/Cairo) and global media ("the media doesn't tell you what to think, but it tells you what to think about").

We also heard about the pushback from Tyler Cowen, who wrote Creative Destruction. His idea was that the "cultural imperialism" thesis stereotypes the Third World as fragile and helpless, and offers a simplistic "active-passive dominator-victim" dualism. More importantly it ignores the 2 way flow of culture.

Preview Session

Today is the preview session for incoming public diplomacy students. I can't believe it has been a year since I was visiting USC, looking into the program. It seems like a lifetime ago. The preview program really sold me and got me excited. I started piping up in Nick's Cultural Diplomacy class and haven't shut up since. Then again, I was the only one who knew the VOC symbol was the Dutch East India Company logo (Jan Company). I'm doing my part for the preview session by taking part in a Q&A dinner session with the students sans profs- I get to give them the lowdown on the pub d world. And, as typical Paul fashion, why pass up a free meal?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sad times at USC

I was on the news last night and this morning, but for the most unfortunate of reasons. I was biking back from the library, and I saw a caravan of news trucks parked next to the Jefferson and Hoover crosswalk, just outside USC. Being of a curious sort, I stopped to ask what was going on. Apparently, some students were walking home last night at 3am, and crossing the light on their own green. A car ran a red light, came speeding through and hit the couple. The car drove another 500 feet, then the passenger then got out of the car, pulled a person who was apparently still on their windshield off, threw the person to the ground and drove off. That's adding inhumanity to injury. The news truck for NBC Channel 4 interviewed me for a student reaction. I said that the university does a good job of keeping us safe, and this was a sad and terrifying incident. Even more so, this is the second student killed this year. Sad stuff.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Past my prime

I am at way too an advanced age to be playing in an advanced college indoor soccer league. My team was supposed to have a game at 10, but our captain didn't realize we had a bye week. I stuck around to play with another team that needed extra players. It didn't go over well. On the first time I touched the ball, I put in an own goal. I reached out my left foot to stop a pass across the center and put it into the back of our net. Ooops. They shoot players in Colombia for that. I quickly subbed out. Thankfully, the team lost pretty handily, and I was not the difference in the game. But I was sucking wind, and am still barely recovering.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cultural Diplo Conference and Goras in the Outfield

I'll be honest, I hadn't planned on attending the Cultural Diplomacy conference at USC. The thought hadn't even crossed my mind, until Sabina the violinist came to our cultural diplo class on Tuesday. While I had plenty of other work I should have been doing, I justified taking the day off because it was program related. In reality, it was a cheap attempt to be smitten a tad longer with the Azeri virtuoso. While I was able to catch up for horchata and Mexican pastries with Caucus queen, timing proved fickle and robbed me of any real opportunity for amour. Ah, but I digress.

I spent the day at the Cultural Diplomacy: Clash or Conversation? symposium, put on by APDS. I arrived bright and early for some coffee and shmoozing, and quickly realized that I was dressed the same as all my male cohorts from the program; blue- stripped button down shirt and khakis, we could have all been twins. I took Prof. Cowan's advice and chatted it up with the oldest people I could find, he remarked that those are the people you should chat with as they are usually the power-brokers. Yet the conference was being held at the gerontology school, at the Ethel Percy Andrus center, which is possibly the oldest place on earth.

Anyway, I chatted for a bit with Dr. Richard Arndt, the Emperor of Cultural Diplomacy before the conference kicked off. He is the author of The First Resort of Kings, our handbook on US cultural diplomacy, and was there as a keynote speaker. His keynote address was much like his book- a little all over the place, but with purpose and both enjoyable and interesting. He gave a great quote of a French pearl of wisdom, "just because it's true doesn't mean you have to say it." He spoke about the recent passing of John Hope Franklin, and gave a nice note of Mr. Franklin's own take on Corinthians 13:13, the passage that emphasizes "faith, hope and love."

Franklin's take on the passage was (or maybe it was Arndt's): Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime, therefore we are saved by hope; because it doesn't always make complete sense, we are saved by faith; nothing we can do can be accomplished alone, therefore we are saved by love. There was a fourth part he added, but I missed it- mea culpa, forgive me. I believe Dr. Arndt also said, "the enemy of public diplomacy is quick fix thinking, or thinking that a single person can somehow change the image." If I misattributed that, see the previous line.

Anyway, the conference continued with a panel on "Presenting America to the World: The Public-Private Partnership," featuring Tracey Alexander- the producer of The Grid , our Diplomat in Residence Mark Smith and Dr. Darius Udrys- the development manager of Center for Civic Education, with Chairman Cull as the moderator (Nick has a penchant for a Chairman Mao shirt, too cool). We followed with a working lunch, with my classmate Erin and I leading our table discussion on our own backgrounds in public diplomacy. It ended up being a tad farcical because Dr. Arndt and Dr. Udrys were at our table, so we were informing them of our PD history.

After lunch, we were treated to a concert by Sabina, of improv Bach and Azeri folk along with a frame drumer. Then we had a panel on "Global Approaches to Cultural Diplomacy" with the aforementioned violinist, plus Sharon Memis- the director of the British Council North America, and also the curator of the USC libraries, Andrew Wulf. During the Q&A session, I asked about a question based on something Prof. Cull had previously said about different European cultural institutions canibalizing PD from each other and detracting from an overall Euro PD. Not to worry, there is the EUNIC, which is pronounced just as you would imagine.

I had to duck out early to get a little work done before my cricket match this evening. I was also called up to be official cricket photographer for the league playoffs. I snapped some photos before my own team's match this evening.

My team, the Hurricanes, was entering the playoffs on a roll. We finished the season in first place, and I thought us to be a team of destiny- I was some good luck gora charm. We were up against a foe we had defeated the previous week, and we fully expected to roll our way into the finals. Alas, it wasn't meant to be, as we went down in a close match. I scored a run, but didn't get to bat. I did some "sexy fielding" (not my term). But in the end, we proved to be a few runs short. I had a great time in the cricket league. It really was fun, and I am interested to continue learning. I still feel that I have tremendous potential for the sport, as it isn't that much different than baseball. With more practice, I think I will really get it. As the Brooklyn Swamis like to say, wait till next year.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

respondo (response)

From Heather:
"I'm addressing this entirely from the standpoint of the linguist. Sure, basing Esperanto (largely) on Indo-European makes it (theoretically) easier for other speakers of an Indo-European language to learn and use. so if your research goal is to investigate a language that's like what a lot of other people will find easier to learn, then Esperanto is your sure bet. But if your goal is to learn something about the diversity of languages, and in a somewhat related vein, the amazing ways in which those diverse languages hold common features, the artificial language of Esperanto isn't very interesting. This is because the diversity that Esperanto incorporates isn't very diverse. So whether you classify Esperanto as representing a diverse set of languages really just depends what you find to be an interesting research question. Most of the linguists (regardless of their sub-disciplinary focus) take the second question to be the interesting one.

Jeez, Paul, who'd have thought that a post on Esperanto would conjure up so much discussion?"

Mi certe ne atend ĝi (I sure didn't expect it- Paul)


The Esperanto conversacioj (conversation) continues:
From Mankso:
Although I have used Esperanto almost daily for close to 60 years now, I'm still not entirely sure that I know what is meant by the term 'universal language'.

Is it
a) 'universal bilingualism' [YOUR ethnic language + non-ethnic, non-territorial Esperanto for all, plus any necessary adaptations to local linguistic conditions]; or
b) 'one language for the world'?

a) is what most Esperanto-speakers are after, whereas b) seems to be where we are presently headed with destructive English-language hegemony.

And to Heather T:
More than half of the world presently speaks an Indo-European language, fluke of history or not. The basic wordstock of Esperanto was selected in 1887 on the basis of 'maximum internationality', not democratically to have 5 words from Zulu, 4 from Inuit, 3 from Tlingit and so on, nor to be representative of all the languages of the world. Since then Esperanto has taken in words from many more cultures, as necessary. And being without the usual irregularities of ethnic languages, it is obviously easier for any non-Indo-European to learn than any ethnic language.

From FreeXenon:
Claude Piron seconds both posts: http://claudepiron.free.fr/articlesenanglais/europeanorasiatic.htm

From Anonymous:
"If you like to play with words and if you are a creative writer then esperanto is the best "toy" or "ilo"
You can play scrabble and you can write poems and you can enjoy this free language."

Ĉi tiu estas ravega, diras Paul(This is really cool, says Paul!)

The last letter writer in Calcutta

This came to me from a friend Jocelyn, who spent time in Bombay. We caught up there during my travels. It came to her from a fellow named Scott Steinberg. I don't know him or his story. All I know is that there are things that are disappearing that I care far more about than the newspaper industry. I spent time in Calcutta, and saw the letter writers, the picture is mine, but the memory is from Scott:

From Calcutta

Hardly anyone anymore comes to see Saresh Mahato, one of the last letter writers of Calcutta.

"No more letters," he said after I asked him to write me one. "Stamps ... and insurance."

Then he pretended to ignore me, staring at items on his makeshift table set up in front of the General Post Office, a chalk-white architectural curiosity on the western side of Dalhousie Square.

About a year and a half ago, I had read an article in the New York Times about the professional scribes outside the main Mumbai post office who pen letters for illiterates: prostitutes, migrants, coolies, and other hardscrabble types in need of a skilled hand to send a dispatch home -- or worse, official correspondence to civil servants or bill collectors.

It's just one of several business being swept aside in the name of progress and convenience. In India, there are almost 400 million cell phone users. If you don't have a phone, your friend does. No need to take the time to dictate your worldly problems to a letter writer, and then shell out 20 rupees for the service. If an official letter is required, the whiz kids at the Internet cafes will whip one up for a good price.

I didn't have the chance to look for the letter writers in Mumbai four and a half months ago. When Jennifer and I arrived in Calcutta, I made a point to attend to unfinished business.

"You write better," said Saresh, a handsome man in his late 40s who grew up in the much-maligned state of Bihar.

"But I can't write this letter," I said.

Saresh and I went back and forth. Please. No. Please. No. And then something broke, the way it can only India -- the feeling of a billion people against, suddenly for.

"One page?" he asked, reluctantly offering up a blank sheet.

"One page."


"My step-father, Fred."

"What is step? Father is father."

We were getting somewhere.

I told Saresh what I wanted: a letter to Fred explaining that I think about him often as slips deeper into Parkinson's Disease. I wanted more than a postcard -- something with rough edges, gleaming with truth.

"From the heart," he said. "You should have done one thing -- come in the evening when there's no traffic. Then I can think."

There is always traffic in Calcutta.

But he started. In the first paragraph his cursive loops were tight and the line slants were sharp, belying his nervousness. He was out of practice. He took long pauses between sentences; when he wrote, he didn't stray from my dictation.

We pushed on. Customers came up wanting to buy and sell stamps. Saresh ignored them. A naked man, with the skeleton of a small dinosaur, was fifty feet behind us dying a slow death -- his penis hanging in his beggar's cup. The heat pressed on the pollution, which pressed on our lungs.

In the letter, Saresh introduced himself to Fred, explaining that his industry was at least as old as the post office itself -- 140 years and counting. He said he was writing the letter, probably one of the last he would ever draft, for fifty rupees, or one dollar.

Half-way through the letter we crossed the street for a break. Three rupees each got us milky, smoky masala tea served in clay cups. He paid. When we finished the tea, we smashed the cups on the ground, as we should.

"You are my most interesting customer in twenty years," he said.

I took the hyperbolic compliment as his way of saying, "I like you." He already knew I liked him.

My letter was now our letter. Saresh picked up his pen and told the story of the journey that Jennifer and I were completing. He spoke of India -- the speed of some things, the inertia of others. He described the fine line between good health and bad. He wrote with more confidence, taking the liberty to stray from what I told him, as he should.

We came to the end of the page.

"Do you want me to write more?" he asked.

Of course I did. All day, through the night, into the summer. I hated to leave, to let go of this, to have to cap four and a half months. But it was time, the moment for the sincerest of sincerelys.

Despite some poor grammar, his last letter -- unlike this one -- was perfect. But it contained one lie: I didn't pay him 50 rupees. Though he has three kids at home and an ailing mother in Bihar, Saresh refused to take my money. I pushed, but not too hard.

When a man hangs up his pen, he should be able to do so with dignity.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Esperanto daŭr

The title of the email means "Esperanto continued." I got two more interesting posts about Esperanto. The first is from Heather, a long time follower. The second comes from a fellow named Bill Chapman. Thanks guys, really fascinating stuff. Perhaps I will study Esperanto for my summer Public Diplomacy (Publika Diplomatio) Field Study. Esperanto Diplomacy (Esperanto Diplomatio!), luv it!

From Heather:
"Hey Paul,

As long as you're looking at languages and linguistics and Esperanto, I'll throw in my two cents worth. Though I'm not an expert on the constructed language, my understanding is that every aspect of the grammar and phonology of Esperanto is derived from an Indo-European language. Though that might seem universal and diverse, from a linguist's standpoint, it's pretty limited. It completely ignores features of languages that exist in Asian languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, for example), and the vast array of indigenous languages and language families, many of which are endangered in today's world.

If you really want a good read for the non-linguist on language diversity, you could start with David Harrison's "When Languages Die." I don't agree with everything he writes and some of that which is speculative is presented as fact, but still, it's a good look at what goes wrong if you narrow your scope of languages to a language family like Indo-European. It's a fluke of history that the speakers of languages within this language family were fairly successful at colonizing the world for centuries, thus a fluke of history that the languages within this family seem to represent a diverse set of people groups."

From Bill Chapman:
"Although Esperanto's vocabulary is indeed largely Indo-European, its grammar has plenty of features which are similar to Turkish, for example. You can build new words which can be understood instantly even if they have never been heard before. E.g. forgesemulo (forges-em-ul-o) is an absent minded person, a vword built up from the 'tool-kit' of Esperanto, which has been tried and tested for over a century."


I got a cool response from a fellow named Brian Barker:

"You are right. Esperanto is not a Universal Language. At least not yet!

However I would like to point out that it has become a living language.

If you have a moment you might like to have a look at http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_YHALnLV9XU

Professor Piron was a translator with the United Nations in Geneva."

Thanks Brian, that's fascinating! Maybe for my summer field study, I will study Esperanto...

Meanwhile, I will dredge up an old post from an old article I wrote about a look at languages.

Public Diplomacy and the Universal Language

And I don't mean Esperanto. In Cultural Diplomacy class today, we were discussing Music as Diplomacy.

First, we had an interesting presentation by Erin about "The King and I," and how it is essentially a form of cultural imperialism. Apparently, the play is forbidden in Thailand for making insulting the monarch, something the Thais do not take lightly. The buffoonish characterization of the King of Siam is considered offensive, meanwhile the Western, feminist mores of Anna are considered culturally relative.

Then we had another interesting presentation by Linda about the NY Phil playing in North Korea, and the role of music in diplomacy. The NY Phil case was interesting because of the stipulations that the phil required, such as the program being broadcast on the radio. The sight of the phil being wined and dined in Pyongyang cut quite a juxtaposed image with those North Koreans who are starving to death.

Finally, we had a guest, Ms. Sabina Rakcheyeva, an incredible violinist from Azerbaijan. The Azeri virtuoso trained at Juliard, and has toured all over the world (2 more countries on her list than moi!). She discussed her own experiences in music diplomacy, sharing a story about being in Lichtenstein, playing at a conference that had both Iranian and American diplomats. She said that when the Americans would present, the Iranians would leave, and vice-versa. She wondered what she was doing there, and felt a little daunted to be playing in such an environment. Yet, when she played, both sides came together to listen, and stayed together as they discussed her music after the performance. She discussed how music allows for nonverbal communication on a different level, and how music can be used as a place of convergence.

I asked her about if she had any experiences playing with Armenians, as the two nations had been to war and still harbor animosity. She mentioned playing with Georgians and Armenians at a joint music program for the three Caucus nations in Germany, and how the music students created their own musical understanding based on their craft.

Then she played for us, and it was stunning. First an improvisational piece of Bach's work, then an Azeri folksong. Both were sublime and emotive.

Prof Cull also briefly discussed how music has both the power to attract and be both something memorable and viral. Memorable in that even in Alzheimer patients that are far gone, they sometimes react to music. Viral in that we can't get certain tunes we hear out of our minds. But he also mentioned it being reductionist.

I mentioned the notion that music can also be confrontational. Ask a Holocaust survivor about Wagner. I also mentioned the anecdote about when the Nazis occupied Prague, there was an order to smash the Mendelssohn statue above the Rudolfinum, the grandiose performance hall just off the Vlatava River with statues of famous composers lining the roof. Yet when soldiers got to the roof, they didn't know which statue was Mendelssohn. They chose to smash the statue with the big nose, figuring this to be the Jewish composer. Instead, they destroyed the statue of Wagner. The Wagner statue was never rebuilt.

Meanwhile, I think am rather smitten with the Azeri beauty, who was rather exquisite in Eastern charm and grace. She is here for a few more days, including a Cultural Diplomacy conference on Friday, then back to play at Carnegie Hall (Practice!).

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

adrift amid black clouds

"Why am I fighting to live, if I'm just living to fight
Why am I trying to see, when there aint nothing in sight
Why I am I trying to give, when no one gives me a try
Why am I dying to live, if I'm just living to die."
-Tupac Shakur, Runnin' (Dyin' to live)

Facing an onslaught of frustration born out of errors not of his own making but plaguing him nonetheless, Don Pablo Quijote retreated into the recesses of Grand. A black cloud of others' mistakes had been following around our dear knight errant. Yet the task of shelf reading, which was exactly what he did, allowed him to wander lost amid Shelley (Percy not Mary) and Shaw (Back to Mathuselah) and helped restore peace of mind. Meanwhile, diplomacy is slowing curing all maladies and blowing away the dark cloud.

"We live as we dream- alone"
-Joseph Conrad

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I'm not often jealous of travelers, but I am of these folks. I think the tour aspect would probably be the death of me.

Friday, March 20, 2009


I rented a beach cruiser bike to take myself to the Santa Barbara mission and botanical gardens, but Lance Armstrong I am not. The ride was all uphill, so I abandoned my Tour d' Santa Barbara and made my way down to bike ride along the beach path. I stopped in an organic local market and grabbed some jalapeno garlic rolls, tomatoes and California sharp cheddar and had a lil picnic on the beach.

After, I met Daniel and Anna and we went driving through California's hills and lakes, and on to a winery. The ride out was beautiful, and reminded me a little of Texas hill country. We rode past lush hills and lakes shimmering in the afternoon sun. The wine tasting was delicious, as we sipped really good chardonnay and good syrah and ate dark-chocolate covered almonds to clear the palate.

We had a quiet night, watching Wall-E, which was cute.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The evil Mr. Jameson

An evil man named Mr. Jameson punched me in the face and left me for dead. Booo.

The great glass elevator

Don Pablo Quijote strode out into the moorish gardens of the Union Station of the Angles. With the sight of the bubbling fountain and blooming yellow flowers, he was immediately transported back to the Alcazar in Andalucia. The fountain water flowed like piano rain drops as he found himself back in the sublime paradise that only Cordoba can offer. The yellow spring flowers blossomed like his love for life and his Dulcinea. He was reborn in an Andalucian dream and memory. Basking in the sun's refulgent glow, he flashed the moor's last sigh, and boarded Rocinante- his silver metal steed of Coastliner Starlight Express.

An estimeed Mr. Lawrence announced the breakfast of champions- a bloody mary sipped in a glass box railway car. The great glass elevator. Tom Petty sings of sleeping cities and the thousand day mends as I passed automotive graveyards, florid
graffiti and scenes from Casablanca via the Burbank airport. A bit of simple kindness earned me an orange. A group of Korean mothers swooned over me, taking to me and feeding me Korean sushi. I passed through Joad country and lush farms on the coastal ride north.

I arrived to Santa Barbara and wandered the opposite direction of my hotel, finding an oriental curio store filled with hindi memories and oriental dreams. I found a place to crash, and ventured down to the dock to watch the evening sailboat traffic. Call me Ishmael, there was a sighting of the great beast with a hump like a snowhill. There be Moby Dick, just a mere 40 yards from where I was sitting. "I am madness maddened," sayeth Ahab. Walking back down the pier to get a sweatshirt, I bumped into Daniel and Anna, my friends from Argentina. They were randomly here, in town for a wedding in LA. We went out for margaritas and they turned in for an early night. I wandered around town, ending in an English pub, with two girls including an albina buying me Jameson. Things ended as such. Off to do sideways with Daniel and Anna.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

worldle Levantine

Check this out, it is cute: http://www.wordle.net/gallery/wrdl/657688/Levantine18_Blog

Mexican PD

One thing that really struck me while down south o' the border was the need for Mexico to do a lot more public diplomacy. A number of gringo friends told me I was nuts and was headed down to a war zone. That perception seems to be dominant, as Rosarito was absolutely vacant. Yet it was absolutely fine. The ghetto bird (helicopter) currently circling over my place in LA reminds me why I feel more unsafe here. Mexico need to do some serious PD outreach to counter the perception that it is Baghdad on the border.

Konichiwa, bitches!

I got selected to be a delegate for a month long conference in Japan through JASC. And none other than Dr. Henry Kissinger is an alumni to the program. I would spend a month in Japan, visiting Tokyo, Hakodate, Nagano, Kyoto and Osaka. Now I just need to figure out a way to come up with the yen to support such a venture.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Back in the Good ol'

After a delicious last birria (goat) taco on the border, Don Pablo Quijote made his way back to the good ol'. As I crossed, the line waiting to get in the US was enormous. I don't mean the car lane, which stretched as far as the eye could see, but rather the pedestrian lane. Luckily, I caught a break with a cute couple named Tim and Jessica, who let me join them mid way in the line. I asked if this was the line in, and they were nice enough to let me join them. They were even kind enough to give me a ride on the other side. Good karma bestowed back to them, I prayeth.

I then took in the World Baseball Classic (Hier wordt honkball gesprocken- Dutch for "Baseball spoken here") game at Petco Park between Mexico and Korea. The scene was terrific outside the stadium, with Mexican fans draped in flags, sombreros and serapes and wearing Lucha Libre matches; the Koreans were a sea of blue, and were smashing blue thundersticks and fluttering Korean flags and chanting "Dae han min gook (KOREA!)." Zena had taught me that chant so I joined in. I got the cheapest ticket ($20) and joined the festivities. Petco Park was beautiful, with interesting architecture and dynamics in the stadium and really showcasing the San Diego downtown. A friar frank, a beer and a seat far lower than where I should have been and I was golden. Perhaps the most poignant thing was during the national anthems. First they played the Mexican anthem, then the Korean anthem, and scores of people stood with their hands on their hearts. Then the American national anthem was played, and many, many on Korean and Mexican Americans kept their hands remaining on their hearts during the Star Spangled Banner.

Both sets of fans were super animated, the Korea supporters with synchronized chants and the Mexican fans with whistles and cheers. According to the scoreboard, the game was a match between the Team Lee, Park and Kim vs. Team Gonzalez. During each respective team's at bats, the announcers would announce in either Spanish or Korean. Mexico struck first, getting two runs in the top of the second, but Korea quickly tied up the score in bottom of the inning. Korea ended up being a much stronger team and ended up getting a few more runs and winning easily. Lotsa fun at the ballgame, really one of the cooler baseball games I have attended.

After the game, I made my way by trolley then bus to Pacific Beach to stay at the Banana Bungalow, a hostel where the Scottish kid I met in Rosarito used to work. I hung out late into the night, chatting with Spring Breakers and drinking cheap beer on the porch overlooking the ocean. In a spin on Milo's "all time wasted shall be refunded," I found a different quote at the hostel:

"Time is never wasted when you're wasted all the time."

I woke up this morning, took a stroll on the beachwalk and a trip to Old Town, a kitchy open air museum of California settlement, then caught the bus back to Lala land. A sojourn here, then San Pablo is off to visit the Santas.

An addendum to the "wasted" note, I'm watching the brutal Requiem for a Dream. Requiem for a freakin' nightmare and a punctuated response to the statement above.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

El Pueblo Espiritu

I left TJ and its complicated tale (to be explained in my Tales piece) and hopped a shared taxi to the beach ghost town of Rosarito. The fear and loathing of drug wars and tales of violence trumpeted in American newspaper rags (brown journalism) and via email scared all the gringo tourists and usc spring breakers away. Clubs that would be convulsing with drunken college revelry lay empty. Giant block hotels stand as vacant tombstones in the sand, offering monuments to ambition thwarted by insecurity.

I am here, at the cheapest bed in town- a hostel off the beach and beaten path. My cohorts are a Scot, Englishman and cute Canadian yoga instructor. The biggest danger I face is threat of bedbugs, as noted by the hostel, something that scared me far more than threats of drug cartel violence. The hostel is next to a hotel taken over as a military police compound , which makes the hostel either the safest in Rosarito or the most dangerous target. The heavily armed soldiers tossed a football, catching it with one hand as an m-16 lay slung over their shoulders. I spent last night sitting out at a campfire with the commmonwealth gang, as we sipped pacifico and roasted marshmellows. The English bloke and the cannuck are driving down baja to catch a ferry and roadtrip it down to Huatulco. They had no guide book or plans- as the fortune states: "If you don't know where you are going, any road will do", so I parted with my guide book, sold for 180 pesos. It had served me well, through many a Mexican adventure, but they needed it far more than me. Today I walked along the cool sand of the Baja beach, and enjoyed the spring sun as the pacific waves crashed pacifically on the beach. They say the Pacific has no memory. So true.

I am headed back north, to get out of the ghost town and check out the World Baseball Classic in San Diego. Off to watch Mexico vs. Korea. Go Hankook!

Friday, March 13, 2009


I hopped the dash then caught the bus crosstown to the Greyhound station. As always, the greyhound station is the scarriest place in my adventures. I took an $18(chai!) bus down to San Ysidro, the border crossing.

The last time I was in TJ, I had a border incident. I went to the bullfight with Hurricane Katarina, but not realizing there was a time difference, we arrived an hour early. We went to kill time by walking along the beach, and saw a bunch of poles in the sand. We walked over, figuring it was some part of a dock that had been destroyed. There was nothing there but a sign that said dangerous things in the water, while people were standing about the poles. We meandered on through and kept walking up the now vacant beach. As we were walking, we noticed all sorts of surveilance equipment. Hmm...we thought it must be for drug smugglers. We continued walking, until we were stopped by a man in a jeep. He got out in full uniform and asked we we arrived to the US. We laughed and said we were in Tijuana. He replied that we had just crossed into the US. WHAT! We explained that we had seen no signs, had been squarely in Mexico and just wanted to watch a bull fight. The border guard checked our passports and quized us about our origins before sending us back on our way to sneak back across the border into Mexico. Oops. He gave us two morons a stern warning about the dangers of Mexico.

And the great drug war on the border that I arrived to...bullshit. Mexico feels exactly the same. People are gong out about their daily routines. There was a shooting in my neighborhood two days ago, does that mean I should run articles screaming "LA UNDER SIEGE"? On to shabbat.

Nuts and bolts

So I stopped by the Center for International Studies yesterday to drop off a paper for an essay contest and inquire about my Taiwan Fellowship application. I asked the office manager, a student who I had briefly shared a class with. To my utter dismay, she told me that they never received an application from me. WHAT, I calmly exclaimed. Yes, they had only received 4 applications and mine wasn't one of them. PARDON, as dear Xena likes to say. I said that I was sure that I had sent it in with ample time. She checked her email, and gasped. She had received it, but hadn't forwarded my application on to the powers that be. AND the contest was already decided. AAARGH!! I am waiting to hear back from the CIS about where to go from here. I am remaining patient, and I understand the director is a fair man, so we'll see. In any case, it would suck to lose out on an opportunity, because my project was not judged on its merits but rather someone else's mistakes.

the throes of a long week

Nuts and bolts, nuts and bolts. I got screwed. I will get to that, but there is a lot to recap. Spring break is upon me, I haven't had one of those in a while. Or perhaps more than my fair share. I have a busy, interesting week to recap. I will get to that.

The week started off busy, shelving the imperatives like "IBM Mainframes 1989." Ah imperative, you are such a relative term. "Nothing more complicated than perception," sayeth Anij of Star Trek Insurrection. One upon a time imperative was dealing with fallout from bumping off Sheikh Yassin. Ah, but I digress. Monday moved, with unnecessary apology for perceived impertinence. We spent Media and Politics watching old political commercials, and assessing their effectiveness. I like Ford trying to be statesmanly. Those old LBJers were a doozy, and I am not even referring to the daisy ad. Watched Mondale/Ferraro ads that were all over the place, juxtaposed with Reagan's homilies.

Tuesday was long, with grand work, cultural diplo on film (Donald Duck Diplomacy) and a presentation on Bollywood from Ms. Tabby. We reconvened for a phenomenal lecture from Shashi Tharoor. The chap was ghee. He was truly smooth as silk, and I mean that in the most complimentary wya. He laid out the challenges of India, Indian Public Diplomacy and a little thali in between. He lead off with some basic points surrounding: a) bread vs. freedom, and if democracy in makeshift coalition can deliver "the goods" efficiently; b) centralization vs. federalism, and whether a country needs a strong central gov or centralizing the least can be the most effective; c) pluralism vs. sectarianism, and whether India can maintain its mosaic; d) globalization vs. self-reliance, and how for many years India's leadership associated capitalism with slavery as enacted by the British East India company; e) guns vs. butter (ghee) and the balance between military vs. human security, ie without development, you can't have a country worth defending.

Dr. Tharoor moved on to the concept of "world leadership," noting that it is an antiquated term of Kipling or Bond stories. He then asked: was leadership based on population- which India is 1/6 of the world and will soon overtake China; based on "brand"- as the today's India is heir to a fable, the jewel in the crown is their heritage; was it based on economy, which the subcontinent is moving from lumbering elephant to swift tiger.

He then laid out India's multitude of paradoxes, something I saw well in my travels. Its riches, and poverty; its hard and soft power; its Bollywood soft power- and the fact that in Syria, the only posters that ever rivaled Hafez al-Asad's were that of Bollywood stars, or that curryhouses in London employ more people than the steel, shipyards and other once vital industries combined; its political culture to create consensus without consensus. He also quoted an old colleague, who once likened Indian diplomacy to the lovemaking of an elephant: conducted on high, with lots of bellowing and the results not know for 2 years. In short, the fellow was terrific. I'm not even scratching the surface of his eloquence and polish, and I'm not often impressed. He has a new book out, The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone, I'm guessing its worth its rupee price. I had a question, but it got asked by Prof. Cowan, I guess that leaves me in good company.

Wednesday was long but fruitful. I finished my study, and can promise that there is only so many times you can listen to "hoed" in a distorted voice. On to class, for a fascinating class with Prof. Wiseman in Transnational Diplomacy and Global Security on private military firms and their role in international affairs. Some great articles we read and discussed on the role of these contractors. I reviewed an interesting piece by Jeremy Scahill on Bush's Shadow Army, which i wanted to like but went on the offensive for its idealogical answer to the ideology of military privatization. Also about the shady side of lobbyists. I sent around a piece on the eminent Baron Von Kloburg, and his untimely demise.

Later a great class in my Reporting in the Digital Age class with Majorie Miller, a former international editor and current international editorial editor of the LA Times. We also heard from the Pulitzer Center, an interesting org that gives travel grants for international reporting. Maybe they want to fund my Cape to Cairo or Timbuktu to Zanzibar adventures...
I gave a presentation for our Then and Now section, offering up how certain events would be covered in today's media world. I chose "E-dysseus" and told Homer's tale through the modern media lens. O Twitter tweet the tale of our cunning hero. I will see about posting it.

Meanwhile I recently bought a jar of peanut butter. I say that to prove my adventurous side. I am also going down to Tijuana. Far less adventurous. I'm banking on the "Mexico Under Siege" that the LA Times is shouting is like my fear over peanut butter. Besides, I will be with my peeps, the Jews of Tijuana.

Last of note, Miles and I took a constitutional down to the Staples Center to try to get to the USC game. We had no luck weaseling student tix, but in the end Miles invested in the prospect of later tickets and seems to be running an impressive ponzi ticket scheme. No actually a prudent piece of ticket investment on Miles' part, I wish I had had the cajones or capital to follow suit.

The night ended with Jon Stewart playing Walter F'ing Cronkite to Jim Cramer on the Daily Show. Well done, Jon- nice to see someone is giving pushback; sad that the "fake news" is the only one who tells the truth.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Paul the cuy

"If you ever need a guinea pig, let me know. My grandfather was in the Tuskegee experiments."
Dave Chapelle, Half Baked

That's right, besides getting a j.o.b., I'm also offering myself up for scientific research. Since I didn't think offering up a donation of little Paulies might be the best way to make some money, I went for the second best option: cuy, guinea pigs needed for an experiment. Friday I headed over to the House Ear Institute to be someone's research bitch. After a bit of confusion, I found my way to Li, a former USC PhD student who is doing research on cochlear ear implants. From the friendly confines of a sound bunker, I sat for 4 hours, listening to various sounds (had, hud, hoed, who'd, hayed) and clicking on what I heard and whether the voice was female or male. The voices got hit with heavy distortion, I guess to simulate the effects of hearing loss. Oh god, it was boring. Makes shelving books seem firecracker. But it wasn't so bad because I got to take breaks and stand out on the roof amid bees buzzing around blue and yellow flowers, sipping bad coffee and overlooking the valley sprawl of the city of Angels on a crisp afternoon.

I make an interesting subject for a hearing experiment because my hearing is not great. When I was a kid, I used to get ear infections. My parents love to tell a story of when I first got tubes in my ears, and after the surgery they took me to McDonalds. I had to cover my ears because it was so loud from all the background noise I could never previously hear.

Meanwhile, I had my weekly cricket match. I think I am something between the bat boy and the mascot. My team went nuts when I pulled on my sweatshirt to reveal an Indian cricket jersey (thanks Julep) and laughed when i counted down for our team cheer in hindi. Also last night I went out with program friends for my classmate Alex's girlfriend's birthday at a cool Russian-style club in Hollywood called Bar Lubitsch. The place was pretty cool, with red burlap walls and orbs of light hanging over the packed dance floor. We danced it up, drinking effen black cherry and sodas that tasted like Shirley Temples, but kicked like Lil orphan Annies. LA is way too expensive for my blood, $11 drinks! After, we had late nite fare, ending at the LA landmark, Canter's Deli. Nothing like corned beef special at 3am to put you out for the night.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Dewey Defeats Rockower

As glamorous as the life of a journalist/graduate student/ knight errant may sound, I was beginning to run low on funds, and found myself in need of gainful employment. On the concept that "no work is beneath me," and after being branded "imperious" by one Dr. Kenya, I got a part-time job at the USC Grand Library. As Widespread Panic said, "Ain't life grand."

When i sought the job, I was warned it was "boring." When they tell you something is boring, it is really boring. After a bit of an orientation, and a semi-humbling quiz on the dewey decimal system, I was unleashed on the stacks. The librarian told me to wander around, and I almost didn't return. I loved perusing the stacks, taking in the dusty smell of forgotten knowledge on weathered pages. I peered at The New Republic from 1933, the Charter of the League of Nations and browsed old books of old thoughts from ancient lands.

I also did a little work, re-shelving books. Reminded me of my old days sorting baseball cards, or files at various doctors' offices. I kinda like the menial labor of that variety, there is a zen quality to it. Nothing like zoning out, with a little manu chao, peering through old books. The job also gave me the opportunity to flirt with cute undergrads, as I sorted books with junior girl who was half-portuguese, half-french. This library biz might have potential.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A day with Dad

My weekend was pretty quiet, spent biking and at a birthday party. My Dad came in on sunday, and we got to spend a nice day together. He was in Vegas for a convention, and came in on sunday to spend a day with me. He arrived, and picked up some wonderful fluffy donuts for my roommates and me from Randy's donuts near the airport. We went to get lunch at Phillipe's (the place that invented French Dip) but the line was out the door. Instead, we drove down to the Grand Central Market for some birria, goat tacos.

We then headed over to the Museum of Tolerance. I had been there on MLK day and the place had really moved me; I knew it would do the same for my Dad, who can be emotional. Sure enough, he loved the exhibit about genealogy and the history of immigrants in America. He was pretty moved, although it is no tough job to get my Dad in a state. He is very, very much into genealogy, and liked the interactive presentations about what the family tree hunting meant for others (Joe Torre, Maya Angelou, Sherman Alexie, among others). After an afternoon in the museum, we headed over for an ice cream cookie sandwich at Diddy Reese in Westwood. My dad was nice enough to take me for a quick grocery run at Whole Foods, which felt rather foreign to me. I'll stick to my Mexican-Indian Superior market to the yuppie flax fair that Whole Foods offers.

Some good sushi for dinner and a stroll around Little Tokyo, plus some Pink (crack) Berry.Yes, it has been brought to my attention that all I seem to talk about on my blog is food- guess, I'm just a fat kid at heart.

It was a short visit, but very nice. As we were going to bed, my father said that he was sorry it was only a day. To this I replied, think of all the people who would give anything for just one day with someone they loved. We talked about what he would do if he had one more day with his father.